Over the next 30 days, I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 season.
Let's get a move on with the Calgary Flames, Northwest Division, and the Western Conference.
The Calgary Flames currently have 23 players under one-way contracts, two goaltenders, seven defensemen and fourteen forwards. The salary cap hit for these 23 players is $55.37 million. This gives the Flames a little bit of wiggle room but don’t look for the Flames to make anymore major moves before the regular season starts.
Jay Bouwmeester’s rights were acquired in the Leopold trade with Florida before July 1st and then signed a five-year $6.68 million free agent contract. Colin Stuart and Anton Stralman were acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Wayne Primeau.
Nigel Dawes was acquired off waivers from the Phoenix Coyotes then signed a restricted free agent contract. Jason Jaffray, Brian McGrattan, Fredrik Sjostrom, Garth Murray, Staffon Kronwall and Riley Armstrong were all acquired via unrestricted free agency.
Adrian Aucoin, Todd Bertuzzi, Mike Cammalleri, Andre Roy, Andreas Eriksson, Marcus Nilson, Rhett Warrener and Warren Peters were lost to Unrestricted Free Agency. Jim Vandermeer was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes. Jordan Leopold was traded to the Florida Panthers. Wayne Primeau was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Restricted Free Agents still to Sign
Prospects that Impressed in '08/'09
Where to start. Once the injuries started to pile up on the Flames, the fourth line was a revolving door of call-ups from the AHL. All the call-ups that played three games or more had at least one point, while with the big club. Some of the most notable were:
This former first round pick, 26th overall in the ’05 draft of the Calgary Flames, Pelech was a late-season call-up after the Flames’ Defense went through a rash of injuries.
During his rookie season, Pelech played in five games and averaged 13 minutes a game. He chipped in with three assists and didn’t look out of place, while being paired with follow call-up John Negrin.
This 6’4” 220lbs defensemen is one of several defensive prospects that will be allowed to develop in the AHL, with Abbottsford for the ‘09/'10 season. A big, strong, stay at home defensive prospect. He has decent skating ability and an overall skill set to play in the show, but has to learn to make better in game decisions.
David Van Der Gulik
The former seventh round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in ’02, Van Der Gulik played in six games during ’08/'09. Van Der Gulik is a organizational depth player who can be entrusted as a call-up from the AHL in the case of injuries. He earned two assists in his debut with the Flames.
The former third round pick of the Flames, in ’07, Negrin played in three games in ’08/'09 after spending the entire regular season and playoff run of the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. The 20 year-old, 6’2” defensemen recorded an assist during his stay with the Flames late in the regular season.
Negrin has not proven to be a goal scoring threat at the WHL level, but Negrin has good size and above average skating ability. He is very good outlet passer and has been on the ice when Kootenay needed to shut down some of the WHL’s best talent.
He will need to continue to get stronger and work on his offensive skills to make it to the show.
Prospects to watch in '09/'10
With the Flames there may not be a lot of room for prospects to make a significant impact of the club during '09/'10. If the injuries do start to mount again in Calgary, look for Negrin and Pelech to get a look on defense and these forwards:
The former first round pick, 24th overall draft pick of the Flames, in ’07, Backlund started the ‘08/'09 with his hometown Vasteras, a second division team in Sweden. Then at Christmas time he played for Sweden at the World Junior Championships and stayed in North America to continue his development.
After playing one game with the Flames, he was sent to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. With the Rockets, he recorded 30 points in 28 regular season games and 23 points in 19 playoff games, helping to lead the Rockets past the Vancouver Giants and Calgary Hitmen during the WHL playoff and to within one win of the Memorial Cup.
The speedy center is a premier play maker. He has incredibly soft hands, especially in tight with the goal. He often makes passes that only an elite few can accomplish. His strong shot makes him a one-shot scoring threat every time he laces them up. His defensive play makes him a very complete player.
The Flames’ first round pick, 28th overall in ’08, Ennis turns 20 years old in June. He could go back to Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires of the WHL or start his pro career in the AHL with the Abbottsford Heat.
The 6’4” 200lbs Right Winger is excellent in front of the net, hard to move and with soft hands for a player of his size. Nemisz will make a good power forward, if he can improve his skating and general agility.
To be successful at the next level, he will have to get to the net quickly and be in position to put the puck past the goaltender. Nemisz must also work on being consistently physical in his play, so that he can be the force on the ice that his position requires.
The first round draft choice, 26th overall in the ’06 entry draft, Irving is a technically sound goaltender who positions himself very well. Most of the goals he allows can often be attributed to a break down in his positioning.
For all Flames fans, hopefully we do not see Irving with the big club this year. If we do it probably means an injury to Kiprusoff.
Recap of '08/'09
The Calgary Flames looked like the Northwest Division champions and the third seed going into the playoffs but a rash of injuries to key players and Darryl Sutter’s mismanagement of the Salary Cap caused the Flames to with as few as 17 dressed players for the last two weeks of the ’08-09 season. This caused the Flames to drop from a double-digit lead to losing the division on the second last night of the season.
The Flames finished second in the Northwest Division and were the fifth seed going into the playoffs. They lost out in seven games to the Chicago Black Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. The Flames were 8th in the NHL, averaging 3.06 goals a game but were 23rd allowing 3.00 goals against per game.
The Flames went into the off-season looking for two things. A brand new coaching staff and an improvement to their team defensive play. Flames’ GM Darryl Sutter went out and hired and impressive young coaching staff, that includes his younger brother Brent. Brent Sutter is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, with the New York Islanders. As a coach, Sutter has coached Team Canada to two World Junior Championships, and lead the Red Deer Rebels to three Western Hockey League Eastern Conference championships from ’01-’03 and the Memorial Cup championship on 2001.
His new assistants are Ryan McGill and Dave Lowry. McGill coached the Kootenay Ice to the 2002 Memorial Cup championship. Along the way, defeating the defeating champions, the Red Deer Rebels that were coached by Brent Sutter. Over the past four seasons he has been the head coach of the Flames primary affiliate in both Omaha and Quad Cities.
Lowry started his coaching career while still an active player with the Flames during the ’04 playoff run. Due to injuries he was asked to join the coaching staff behind the bench to help give a fresh perspective on what was happening on the ice. Most recently, Lowry was the head coach of the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) during the 2008-09 season, and guided the Hitmen to the best record in the WHL (59-9-3-1) and a berth in the 2009 WHL Championship as the Eastern Conference champions.
Outlook for 2009-10
The Flames now employ three of the best defensemen in the NHL. Bouwmeester and Phaneuf were among the top four in average minutes played and Regehr is one of the best shut down defensemen in NHL. All three have been invited to the Canadian Olympic Team Orientation Camp and I believe two of them will make the final roster.
Also invited to the Orientation Camp is former two-time Maurice Richard award winner and former 50 goal scorer, team captain Jarome Iginla. Also going to the Olympics in Vancouver will be Olli Jokinen and Miikka Kiprusoff for Team Finland.
The Flames also have one of the top goaltenders in the game today. Kiprusoff is a former All-Star and a Vezina Trophy winner, who will be looking to regain his form after an off-season in ’08/'09.
After a dismissal start, the Flames’ Penalty Killing was among the league’s best. Finishing fourth allowed the Flames to equalize an awful power-play and the emergence of Dustin Boyd and Eric Nystrom as the No.1 pairing, allowed the Flames to move Matthew Lombardi in the Jokinen deal at the Trade Deadline.
After losing leading goal scorer, Mike Cammalleri, and second line left winger Todd Bertuzzi to free agency, the Flames will be looking for more from Rene Bourque, David Moss, Dustin Boyd and Curtis Glencross.
Off-season signings, Fredrik Sjostrom, Nigel Dawes and Brian McGrattan will also be asked to chip in with timely goals and improve a dismal power-play that ranked 21st in the NHL, if the Flames want to win the Northwest Division.
Also, back-up goalie Curtis McElhinney will have to spell off Kiprusoff more than he did in ’08/'09. McElhinney appeared in 14 games last season but most of those appearances were in relief of Kiprusoff after he had already started the game.
Kiprusoff appeared in 76 of the 82 regular season games and all seven of the playoff games. McElhinney had been the back-up in Calgary for most of the last two seasons and didn’t win his first game until the last game of the regular season against the Edmonton Oilers.
I foresee the Flames finishing first in the evenly matched Northwest Division and battling for the second seed in the Western Conference. Given recently history, it’s hard to say this but if the Flames can get out of the first round of the playoffs, look for them to make a long run to the Conference Finals.
On August 7th, I will be reviewing the Carolina Hurricanes, as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs.